No distress here: The damsels are back
The bugs of summer are back.
Not just any bugs, like the ghostly slugs nibbling away at your garden or the well-armored cockroaches that appear a day after the exterminator leaves, but those bugs that attract rising fish make a day on a high-country lake an experience to remember all year.
A few hours spent at any lake on Grand Mesa this month reveals how prolific insect life can be in the summer at 10,000 feet. Ants, beetles, mosquitoes (of course), damselflies and the impressive Callibaetis mayflies, all are key to a trout’s diet and also key to an angler’s stillwater success.
Which bug you use, or prefer, is up to you.
One website says flatly the Callibaetis, from their nymphal stages to their adult forms, are the “most important Western stillwater mayfly of all.”
The author of that argument relies on the fact mayflies in some form are available year-round, and their behavior is predictable, both for trout and anglers.
However, this week, next week and probably the next, just about any weed-margined lake from Grand Mesa to the “sagebrush lakes” of North Park will have damselflies hatching and trout rising.
Damselflies, those bright-colored, needle-bodied members of the order Odonata (same as dragonflies), might not be the fastest action when it comes to dry-fly fishing because of the competition from the flotilla of real damselflies peppered across the water.
Once you pattern the cruising trout, and occasionally give that damselfly a slight twitch, the result can be splashy rises from feeding trout.
“There’s so much movement in a real damselfly that it’s hard to fool a trout” with an imitation, said Phil Timms at Western Anglers Fly Shop, 244-8658. “I think trout really key into the movement when an adult is struggling to escape its nymphal shuck, and that’s hard to imitate.”
The action can be a bit more arm-jarring when you’re slow-retrieving a damselfly nymph.
Imitating the free-swimming nymph as it moves toward the shore can be very productive as trout rush to grab the inch-long wriggler before it disappears into the weeds and debris along the shore.
Timms says his favorite high-lake summer pattern is a beetle in size 14 or 16, a bit bigger than the typical bug seen on Grand Mesa.
“More than anything, I think beetles are the best dry fly in the state,” Timms said. “Most of the beetles I’ve seen on the mesa are size 18, but going a bit oversized helps.”
Beetles, ants and other terrestrial patterns work best when there is a little wind (not too much, or it plays havoc with dry-fly fishing) to dislodge the naturals from the bushes and grasses along the water.
Trout get accustomed (get patterned) to food falling from heaven, and these so-called “wind hatches” can key a feeding period, even in the middle of the day.
“And with all the beetle-kill (trees) you see, why not use a beetle (pattern)?” Timms asked.
Which means you have to be patient and sloth-like when moving along the bank, making sight-fishing for cruising trout as difficult as standing knee-deep in the surf, searching for cruising reds and bonefish.
In his book “The Dry Fly,” the late author Gary LaFontaine wrote an angler “should be able to catch any actively feeding trout he can see if he doesn’t spook it first.”
If your goal is to catch fish, that probably is not the ideal place to take your dog.
The choices of summer fly patterns are several, and although a selection of various terrestrial and aquatic insect patterns doesn’t take up much room, it can broaden your experience and enliven your day.
“Some anglers seem unwilling to branch out and try something different, but sometimes they can be more successful with something other than their normal pattern,” Timms said.
The best part might be that these bugs are on the casual schedule of summer, a regular June and July routine of midday activity with bugs hatching, trout rising and anglers not far behind.